Dawg House Grill Too is a Mighty Business

by Jun 13, 2018Food & Drink, Restaurants, South Brunswick

Chances are, if you live in Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina, you know exactly where the Dawg House Grill Too is located. On a narrow stretch of Beach Drive, palm trees and bright umbrellas dot the patio of the nautical blue-grey building. You can’t miss the sign that says “Dawg House Grill Too” and “Red Barn Coffee.” The interior is cheery with cadet blue walls, corrugated metal chair rails, shiny ebony tabletops and counters, and a decadent dessert case.

With the motto, “Your Neighborhood Grill,” displayed proudly on the outdoor marquee and website, the restaurant serves up fresh food with smiling faces and an eagerness to please everyone that walks through the door.

Dawg House Grill Too

The Chef, Server Allie, Daughter Nisa, and Owner Dana Sumner (PHOTOGRAPHY BY Sheree K Nielsen)

“It’s one of the cleanest, friendliest, and reasonably priced restaurants around,” says owner Valerie Sumner.

Valerie and Dana Sumner, who purchased a vacation home in Ocean Isle Beach in 2009, made the decision to make the quaint seaside town their permanent residence in 2015. Val, who’d been traveling back and forth for business from Boston to Ocean Isle Beach for five years, asked her husband to “find something to keep her busy.” Born in Jacksonville, North Carolina, she wanted her children (Brianna, Nisa, and Dylan) to learn about her southern roots. The Sumners, who both worked and helped manage family restaurants in the Boston area, purchased the Dawg House Grill Too in February 2016. Renovation started shortly thereafter.

Val began her restaurant career at age 17, working in the kitchen, serving as waitstaff, bartending and eventually managing restaurants. Later in life, she became a construction teacher and trainer for a labor union. Dana, her husband, grew up in the restaurant business, helping manage his mother’s restaurant outside Boston after his father passed away. He also had a career in the construction industry and after more than 40 years he decided to retire. The couple’s knowledge and experience in both industries proved to be a great fit to revive The Dawg House Grill Too, bringing it new life.

“We intended to flip it, but after opening and meeting all the wonderful customers, I fell in love with the business and Ocean Isle Beach,” says Valerie. “After the renovation began, many people would stop by daily and beg us not to change the name.”

The first Dawg House Grill was located at the airport nearly 30 years ago and moved to its current location in 2005. The Sumner’s wanted to keep the grill’s legacy alive by honoring the original owners, ‘Mr. Bill’ and ‘Miss Grace’, and keeping the restaurant’s name.

A funny thing happened shortly after the Sumners moved into their Ocean Isle Beach home. Their neighbor (who just happened to be Miss Grace) stopped by to welcome the Sumners to the neighborhood. Over a glass of water, she learned the couple purchased the restaurant.

“Well, I guess you’ll be needing the original recipe for hot dog chili, won’t you,” Miss Grace said with a smile.

On June 5, 2016, renovations were complete and The Dawg House Grill Too held their grand re-opening. They were busy immediately.

The Dawg House naturally sells a lot of hot dogs. Seventy-five percent of their customers choose to ‘build their own’ dog. The ‘All The Way’ hot dog (garnished with chili, slaw, mustard, and onions) is also popular. Other crowd favorites include the ‘Weenie Dog’ (bacon and peanut butter), ‘Hog-Tied Dog’ (bacon-wrapped and deep fried, chili and shredded cheddar cheese) and the ‘Pork Dog’ (grilled pork link smothered with grilled peppers, onion and mushrooms). Valerie admits that the Hawaiian sweet rolls are grilled, and “that’s what really makes the bun.”

Outside of hot dogs, they also sell a lot of lobster rolls, and Val describes these as “heavenly.” Fresh knuckle and claw lobster meat shipped in from Maine weekly sit atop a buttered, grilled Hawaiian sweet bun, layered with lettuce, garnished with a fresh lemon slice and a side of homemade coleslaw. You can have your lobster served with hot butter or homemade ‘mayoli’ sauce.

The Sumner’s choice to help the environment and marine life is evidenced by their recent use of biodegradable straws in the restaurant. “Too many turtles have been injured by breathing in plastic straws,” says Val.

The couple often sees the same customers. There are about 50 to 60 regulars – some visit weekly, others three to four times a week. Bob, a regular from Calabash, says, “The name of the restaurant is misleading because they really serve everything. Val and the servers are so nice.” His friend Russell adds that “the Mediterranean Taco is perfect the way it is.”

People love head waitress Pam Hunt’s vibrant personality and her comedy show of one-liners. She always manages to get the customers laughing. “I love meeting new people, the atmosphere is wonderful, and never boring. Every day is different, (and I guess the boss is okay),” jokes Pam.

The Sumner’s daughter, Nisa 23, works at the restaurant, as front-end manager.

Constance Brianas, The Dawg House’s chef worked alongside celebrity chef, Todd English at Olive’s in Charleston, Massachusetts, and Michael Ming at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

“He is ICAP certified, and we’re lucky to have him. Everything he cooks is amazing,” says Val.

Val, the resident baker, starts her day at 5 a.m. Customer requests include pineapple upside down cake and buttermilk pie. Dessert favorites include lemon squares and blueberry lemon cakes. It’s not unusual to sell six to eight dozen cookies at lunchtime.

With a soft spot in their hearts for the area youth, the Sumner’s pay it forward by donating food for Senior Dinners or Sports programs, along with monetary gifts. Val usually bakes around 300 cookies for West Brunswick High Senior Night – where students gather together for a fun evening of signing yearbooks and conversation. The couple cooks for families in need and allows ATMC local journalists to use the restaurant for their skits. The two are also avid animal lovers, which is reflected in their restaurant.

“Our restaurant allows our patrons to bring their dogs to our outdoor patio. My staff tends to both the owner and the dog, not only by serving the customer but by offering water and grilled hot dogs for the pups. Service dogs, big and small, are always welcome either inside the restaurant or on the patio.” Val says. “They all like hot dogs!”

When asked who motivates and inspires her, Val reminisces about Michael Clemmons, her high school English teacher, basketball and track coach, who still teaches today.

“If we could all be kind like Mr. Clemmons, wouldn’t that be great?” says Val.

Val contemplates the last two years the restaurant has been in operation, and shares, “We’re right where we need to be – we’re doing the best we’ve ever done.”

Want to visit The Dawg House Grill Too?

6415 Beach Drive S. W.,
Ocean Isle Beach, NC  28469
910 579 8834

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